Designing Your New Work Life / Lives Well Designed / Tips for Designing Your Life

5 ways to Build Connection in the Hybrid Work Environment

Our team just talked about holding an in-person Life Design Studio in June 2024, and though there are many details yet to work out, the excitement was almost palpable. We can’t wait to be live with the Studio community again! There is just something about the relationships we can build when we share the same space… Being together galvanizes great work, lasting friendships and unexpected new ideas. 


That said for many of us, in spite of the rising clarion call of return to office, remote and hybrid work are pretty compelling.  Working remotely lets us live where cost of living is cheaper, we avoid the commute, and we can wear yoga pants all day.  For many, RTO is a non starter.


So how do we build the connection and community we desperately want, while maintaining the flexibility that we’ve grown to love?


You know I’m going to say it…. It’s time to think like a designer!


5 ways to build connection at work, in person and online


As the Managing Director of the Life Design Lab, I spend a lot of time thinking about how we can use design to build lives and work where we thrive. In life design, we like to come up with SMALL, INCREMENTAL CHANGES (we call them prototypes) that you might actually try, in cases like these.  Here are 5 ideas you could do today to increase connection in your own hybrid work environment. Let me know if you try any of these, and if so what happens:


#1 Create opportunities for random connection between colleagues – when meeting with individuals online or in person, invite the outgoing and ingoing persons to meet one another.  If they are strangers, invite them to introduce themselves and make an offer and an ask.  If they know each other already, invite them to share one thing they are working on and an insight or curiosity they have about the work.  I do this in my office hours appointments, and it is amazing how two strangers can quickly find points of connection or opportunities to help one another.


#2 Invite someone you work with who is nearby geographically to have an in person cup of coffee, and to learn their personal story – how did they come to be doing what they are doing? What about their current role excites them?  Where might you have similar interests, or be able to support one another? Just because we aren’t going into the office, we can still meet others in person closer to home.  What conversations might you have over a hot beverage that you might not otherwise have over zoom?


#3 Open meetings – in person and remotely – with a check in prompt that invites folks to share something about how they are doing as a whole person.  Some possible prompts to get you started:

  • In one / two words share how you are doing as you enter the meeting
  • Share a highlight from the week
  • Share about conversation recently that impacted you
  • Share a picture that is meaningful to you
  • Share something that you find beautiful / awe inspiring
  • Share a time recently when you changed your mind
  • Share something on your personal bucket list


In person, we naturally make small talk that increases our empathy and care for one another, and this connection makes it more likely that we will collaborate or ask one another for help when we need it. We feel a greater sense of connection and belonging. By checking in, you open the door for your team to get to know one another, even if they can’t have lunch together in the break room. 


#4 Create work rituals that celebrate the effort teams are making together: kick off meetings at the start of projects, celebrations at the end of projects, code names, project T-shirts and inside jokes. If you are a leader, provide funding for food at any in person events, and for team swag that can be shipped anywhere. Reward team leaders that institute the rituals.

Sharing milestones, even over distance, can go a long way to foster camaraderie and engagement.


 #5 Connect intentionally with one person you interact with regularly for basic transactions when you go into the office (i.e. baristas, janitorial staff, administrative staff, folks with desks on your route into the building.) Ask their names, and inquire how they are doing. Make an effort to forge loose connections as well as strong ties. Research shows that seeing and being seen by those we have only short interactions with regularly also increases our psychological well being and feelings of belonging, so that extra “Hi, Riley!” makes a difference.


The point of prototyping is to take some fast, cheap and easy action, to learn.  So my invitation to you – do one of the above for a week.  Notice what happens.  If it feels like it is making things a bit better, keep going and build on that feeling.  Invite others to join you.  If it isn’t for you, try something else. According to the longest running study of adult development, combating loneliness matters as much to your personal health and wellbeing as quitting smoking. And if you’ve read the Surgeon General’s latest report, it also matters to the health and well being of our nation. As a designer, I’m keen to build work where we thrive – working together remotely, in person or anywhere in between.


If you try any of the above, drop me a line.  And if you have other ideas, add them here in the comments – we can all use more care and human connection in our work lives, and ideas to make it happen.